Shortly after the events of Hotsuma and the end of the Oboro clan a corrupt government(big surprise) sends in a super sexy Kunoichi(female ninja) named Hibana to retrieve the soul-sucking sword Akujiki. Rival forces like an evil robot and her former ninja clan get involved as well. This is essentially all you need to know about the story of Nightshade, Sega's followup to the excellent Shinobi.
For those who have already played Shinobi PS2 this game will be quite familiar. Some basic changes have been made to the structure though as the Stage 1A-1B style is chucked for a more standard Stage 1, 2, 3, etc. There are also more stages and they're longer to boot. The basics have gone unchanged as they revolve around the TATE system though the game offers a large number of additional moves each with their own particular uses.
Rather than bother with explaining every little detail I'm going to skip ahead to what's wrong with Nightshade. This is more important I think because for all intents and purposes it covers all of the necessities for a good game yet in the end the problems are so critical to the core game design that they ruin everything. This may be construed as an overly negative view of the game but I assure you that with every facet of the game there is at least one serious issue.
Most of the stages compare favorably with the first game. Hibana has to go through a linear stage where combinations of enemies get dealt with, power-ups are collected, and occassionaly locked doors must be handled through spilling blood or hitting floating objects. With such simplistic level concepts the focus should be on creating strong enemy layouts and providing good environments for the battle to take place in. Most of the time this isn't the case. Enemies are rarely arranged in any kind of order and their placement feels very clumsy. To compare if you were to make a Call of Duty game would you put the bad guys behind cover or out in the open? Given the chance I'm guessing the designers of Nightshade would do the latter. There's no sense of transition from foe to foe and even though they fall easily the occurences where the player is left scrambling to find other foes to finish the TATE are too often. This has no real bearing on the combat itself(which has issues we'll go into later) but the player should never have a problem reaching enemies.
While I'm on the subject of level design I'll point out that the stages are simply too long. The average stage can take anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. Shinobi has stages like that as well but let's consider this: In Shinobi it took me 10 to 30 minutes to complete a stage because I died multiple times. Nightshade on the other hand I got through a stage without dying or running into serious problems and it still took me closer to 30 minutes to complete it. Like the first game Nightshade is very linear so it's not like I was getting lost. How did Sega manage to pull this off? I'm guessing it's due to the new structure adopted for most of the stages. While breaking each stage into sections is a good way to make the game more accessible to beginners it tends to ruin the pacing. Like with most other action games there's a gradual build-up of intensity through enemies and platforming(if the game has it) before the player contends with the boss. It takes Nightshade much longer to reach this highest level, which just leads to boredom.
If that wasn't enough there are some stages that take place on top of moving vehicles. While these stages are a little bit shorter they also aren't broken up into sections. This means that if the player dies towards the end of the vehicle-based stage that means they get to do the entire thing over again. This kind of flies in the face of that whole "more easily-accessible" stuff as these particular stages tend to be the hardest in the game. It doesn't help that they're rather repetitive and consist almost entirely of jumping between vehicles while killing vehicles for so long.
The combat in this game is a chore. I can't put it any more bluntly than that. The first game worked due partly to its simplicity as the player could cut down enemies with a single slice. In Nightshade it's not nearly that simple as while Hibana has a ton of new moves at her disposal they seem to be there just to accomplish the same effect. Thanks to the rather absurd enemy placement there are times where enemies are located too far apart for a single dash to reach them. Hibana has access to a flying kick to cover that extra bit of distance but that means pressing another button just to get to the enemy. Furthermore as the game progresses armored enemies will start to appearing. Removing this armor is typically done with a kick. This gets old very quickly as taking down a single foe requires several button presses. This isn't even considering other factors like multiple enemies, fights over bottom-less pits, and other potential problems that could crop up because the player is too focused on doing what amounts to a QTE for every little foe.
I also have to go into more detail about all of these additional moves. For one reason or another bosses have half the foes or less assisting them in battle. That means a fully-powered TATE is out of the question so the only possible way to kill a boss in one stroke is apparently through a special attack. This special attack is charged by performing a lot of hits. Getting more hits is accomplished via Hibana's twirling knives as they are incredibly weak. It seems that Nightshade trades effectiveness for style at every opportunity. Rather than having Akujiki and simply building a TATE to destroy foes the player must somehow build a full meter for this special attack over the course of the stage just to have a chance at wiping the boss out instantly. This isn't even considering that the boss will be doing more than just standing around waiting to be killed.
Oh but it doesn't end here. The bosses in Nightshade are just plain garbage. They're so bad that it's difficult to point out their faults. It's impossible to point out what could be improved to make them worthwhile. The developer would have been better off starting from scratch in all honesty. They're bad jokes compared to the incredible bosses of Shinobi.
The worst part about all of Nightshade's flaws is that they're interconnected. The nonsensically-long stages are compounded by the terrible enemy placement which highlights Hibana's ineffective abilities and culminates in some absolutely terrible bossfights. Usually there's one or two bad elements that ruin games but here it's a number of bad elements that come together to completely bury whatever quality Nightshade might have had.
In the end maybe I'm just being overly negative and with enough time the player could work around all of the problems but I don't see the point. Some could also argue that Nightshade isn't meant to be taken as a sequel to Shinobi and shouldn't be compared as such. That's fine and all but when I see a game that bases itself on the same concept, features much of the same game design only expanded upon, and heck for that matter takes place directly after the events of the first game I see little reason not to regard it as a sequel. As far as I'm concerned this is a major disappointment.
However I guess it matters little because Nightshade flopped pretty handily in all markets. It released around the same time as Ninja Gaiden for the Xbox...effectively passing the torch for the future of Ninja action games.